On the eve of Easter, I was finishing up some work online when my 11-year-old appeared in the doorway.
"Mom, can you please come to my room?" he asked with some urgency.
"Okay, let me wrap this up first."
"Can we do it now?"
Concerned and curious, I followed him into his bedroom, where he closed the door behind us. As he turned to face me, I could see angst in his watery eyes and that his face was flushed pink.
I thought something was seriously wrong. My heart pounded as I waited for a grave confession. I already felt concerned about the consequences of whatever conversation was about to unfold.
"I know they aren't real," he blurted out.
I knew immediately what he was talking about but I was trying not to laugh and cry all at the same time so I asked "Who?" anyway.
"The Easter bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, you know." He frowned. "I've known since 4th grade." He's now in 6th grade.
Although my eyes were full of unshed tears over his disappointment, I felt tremendous relief. I mean, I figured he must know -- he's incredibly logical and intelligent and has the internet at his disposal. He's always played along so well but I figured he was working a long con; not quite ready to sacrifice the loot. There was a tiny part of me that was concerned, though, because I wasn't as confident in his acting skills as I am his reasoning abilities. I had been agonizing over whether to continue on with my practice of light-hearted evasion, fearing that he might be the kid arguing with other middle schoolers about the existence of the Easter bunny.
"Oh, hon," I said, pulling him in for a hug and choking back a laugh at the seriousness of the scene. "Just so you know, I'm not laughing at you. I'm trying not to cry just as hard as I'm trying not to laugh. I have all of these confused feelings right now because I remember when I realized and how sad I felt that magic might not exist in the world."
He nodded, solemnly.
"But there is magic in the world, right? The tradition of Saint Nicholas has continued for all of these generations in the spirit of kindness and unselfish giving. Creativity and imagination work together to make their own magic for kids all over the world through these stories. And it's so sad when it's over but then the magic comes back to life when you get to help make it for others. You know? I hope you don't feel like I've lied to you or betrayed you. Some parents don't do those traditions at all for that reason and I'm sorry if you wish I hadn't."
"No, no," he said. "I'm glad I had those experiences. I feel like that's a big part of childhood. That's also what made it so hard to say -- knowing it is one thing but admitting it is another. I mean, I knew it."
"Yeah, the bunny kind of blows it, doesn't he? That's what did it all in for me. That and the Tooth Fairy, they're both pretty weird."
"It's an 8-foot-tall anthropomorphic rabbit," he said emphatically. "Also, Santa would have to go to 871 houses per second to get all the gifts delivered. It all goes against the basic laws of nature and physics."
"Right, I hear you. I'm also glad you brought it up; honestly, I was starting to worry a little bit and was wondering if I should sit you down and tell you or if you were just pretending and wanted to continue. Hey, do me a favor and don't be the jerk that ruins it for other kids, though."
"I heard some 5th graders talking about it last year and I was glad to have my suspicions confirmed, but I also saw a YouTube video that said, 'If you didn't know Santa wasn't real, you do now!' and I thought that was a jerk move," he said.
"What a jerk! I agree. I'm sorry you saw that."
"I am too, it was sad. I almost said this at Christmas when we were alone and you asked if there was anything I wanted to talk about but...I couldn't do it. I don't know, I guess I wasn't ready yet. Then I regretted not getting it off of my chest when I had the chance."
"But that's okay! There's no rush to be ready. Enjoy every last bit of childhood. We can either pretend we never had this conversation or you can help make the magic for your brother."
"I'm going to do both. I want to keep the magic alive for him for as long as I can."
"See? That's the magic. You go from the fantasy of Santa Claus to the reality of getting to become him. You get to be the magic!"
I didn't tell him that I'm 95% sure his little brother already knows.
Maybe I'm not ready for it to be over yet either.
(Except for the tooth fairy. She's an asshole.)